When She Makes More: How Income Divides Impact Couples

Colleen Oakley

FarnooshFor the past 12 years, money expert Farnoosh Torabi has coached couples and individuals on their personal finances.

But recently she noticed more and more women were becoming the top-earners in their families—including her own. So she started to do some research on the phenomenon, and what she found shocked her.

“For the first time in my career, I found myself dumbfounded and disappointed,” Torabi says. “I was coming across statistics like breadwinning women have a 50% higher chance of divorce. 50%!”

Torabi herself had recently gotten married, and though she didn’t necessarily feel that her relationship was threatened by her breadwinning status, she did have some insecurities. “Media and our culture has been very vocal about women on the rise,” she says. “But no one’s discussing how we can continue to thrive—especially in our relationships.”

So she decided to take matters into her own hands. Wading through years of research, as well as conducting some of her own, Torabi compiled her conclusions in her new book, “When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.”

We wanted to know more, so we sat down with Torabi to find out how women—and men—can navigate this new financial landscape.

LearnVest: You did a lot of research for this book, and conducted your own survey of more than 1,000 women. What findings surprised you the most?

Farnoosh Torabi: Certainly the divorce statistic was sobering. One study followed couples over a five-year period—and during that period 12% of the couples got divorced. But in couples where the women earned more money, the divorce rate rose by 50%. I thought that was really startling.

Another interesting finding was that women who make more money actually do more housework—child care, housecleaning, etc. A study found that breadwinning women do at least two-thirds of the housework. Researchers think this might be due to gender-identity considerations that lead higher-earning women to subconsciously think they’re threatening to their husbands, so they resort to traditional housewifery roles in an effort to mitigate the potential threat that their breadwinning status creates.

And finally, what’s also sad is that when she makes more or has potential to earn more she’s more likely to stop working. What economists found is that wives with better education or earning potential are more likely to opt out of the workforce. That can be a dangerous thing to do, especially if you’re just doing it because working may threaten your relationship. You have to consider the long run and your financial stability over time.

RELATED: 8 Financial Red Flags in a Relationship

  • a

    I feel like some of the ideas/language in this post are very tired–like encouraging men to think they are heroes for doing housework and emphasizing that women still need to be taken care of/rescued by men. How about men should do their fair share of housework because– it’s just fair? And has anyone considered that the divorce rate is higher for financially successful women because they don’t have to stay in an unhappy relationship for practical financial reasons?

    • BeeBee

      Yes, I think there needs to be a more in-depth look as to ‘why’. I feel like what you said at the end is very true–women, especially when they’re earning more, have more options and don’t have to stay in a crappy marriage just because they can’t afford otherwise. I think that’s probably a huge reason.

    • mostlywentzel

      That was my first reaction as well. As women earn more, they have more choices. I would ask if these women are divorced as a RESULT of earning more, or are they ABLE to divorce because they earn more? Without hearing more detail, this sounds like a flawed “study.”

    • w

      you could be right, however anecdotal evidence is still anecdotal, yuor percieved expereicne doesnt always tranlate to the whole female pop.

  • flours

    Amen ‘a’…I totally agree…I had a completely different expection going into this article…I earn more than my spouse, almost 4x more…have since we met and probably will for as long as we are together, but he works as hard as I do, so we split the house-hold duties fairly equally…he does the tasks I hate (dusting, cleaning the bathrooms) while I do the tasks he hates (laundry, cleaning the kitchen)…some weeks I do more, some weeks he does more…I don’t want to be in a relationship with someone I have to constantly reassure that they are ‘good enough’…everybody has insecure days & you should totally be there to support each other, but I married an adult…I expect him to act like it (most of the time anyway…haha)

    • justathought

      For the past 6 years I have earned DOUBLE – TRIPLE my wife at a minimum. I never ask about shopping or money she spends. Yet, this past year, I left my company partially at her request due to my intense job and time from home. Now all of a sudden she is earning double me and within only the first 6 months, my lower contribution is a huge deal. Its very interesting considering her pay was annually 3x less than me yet when she gets a small taste of success now my low earning is a problem. I love empowered women but I also know that when women get empowred through working out or making a lot of money, statistically they are MUCH more likely to want a divorce than men in the same situation.

      • Times R Changin

        Of course. As the article points out, women look for an equal. Meanwhile when men make more money, they looking for beauty and companionship. If a woman makes more money, shes still looking for someone else to make more money…go figure.

      • flours

        I’m sorry you find yourself in this situation, it can’t be easy. I think my comment should apply to women and men. Marriage (in my opinion) is about a partnership. In every partnership there are ways to contribute. I see money as one of those ways, but not the only way. I would have married my husband if he didn’t earn any money as long as ‘contributed’ to the relationship.

  • 2shar

    In my 50s I have multiple friends, who along with me, have made 4x or more than our husbands our whole lives. Creating your own path alongside someone else takes knowing yourself, open communication, and give and take. For my husband and I, carving our own path over 27 years has been about following my career, yet having 5 kids, and finding shared balance in our work at home. When 1 makes much more than another, look to the bright side of having many more resources to share with those you love and those you want to help. The way we pay in this country has never well followed true value….with bankers and lawyers making many more times teachers, soldiers, police and others in careers of service. Income is just one small dimensions of what we each bring to our families and the broader world.

  • Jeff M.

    This article is kinda sexist. How can you suggest that if a man’s partner earns more he should remember that “their partner is a woman and that they like to be taken care of”. What kind of 1950′s talk is that! And why are we concentrating on a reality where money is his or hers, or mine and yours. Why not start talking about when you are in a relationship, especially a marriage, the money is “OURS”. Who gives a rats bottom who makes what. It all goes into the same coffer. Sit down, have adult talks about where “our” money is going and stop being children and whining about chores. This is such a childish way to be in a relationship. It seems to me if people, while they are dating, have the “money talk” before they move forward in that relationship, this should be a non issue. Be excited that you are together and have money to spend. Support each other like you are supposed to.

    • gla

      Exactly! You are the type of guy I want to date!

  • EF

    I am annoyed that this book and article focus on what women should do in this role reversal situation. Why should it be a woman’s responsibility to fix this “problem”? Where are men in this conversation?

  • BBk

    Just a word of caution when saying women need to “invest” in their male counterpart – I would say invest as much as you want to with extra encouragement and love, but be careful about getting stuck footing the bill for someone else’s education, pie in the sky dreams, etc.